Undergrad researcher at N.C. A&T lab recognized for work on cancer prevention and wheat bran

N.C. Research Campus logoAn undergraduate research technician at N.C. A&T’s Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies has been named a finalist in the Undergraduate Student Research Symposium sponsored by the American Chemical Society.

The center is located at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. It is operated by the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

Nicholas Stone, a senior biology major at Davidson College, is one of six finalists chosen from an international pool of applicants. He will present his research on “Alkylresorcinols: Purification from wheat bran and quantification in whole grain wheat breads” at the 249th ACS National Meeting in Denver, March 22 to 26.

The symposium is conducted by the Agricultural and Food Chemistry Division of the ACS. It is open to all undergraduates conducting research in agricultural food chemistry.

Stone, who is originally from Winston-Salem, works in the lab of Dr. Shengmin Sang, associate professor and lead scientist for functional foods. Originally a summer intern, Stone quickly progressed from helping with small tasks like washing dishes to becoming a full-fledged member of the research team focusing on the study of alkylresorcinols (AR), a bioactive compound in whole grain wheat and rye.

ARs are recognized for their anti-carcinogenic effects against the growth of human colon cancer cells, but they are not commercially available for research. Stone helped develop a purification method to isolate five AR compounds from wheat bran using column chromatography techniques and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). They also developed an HPLC method to measure ARs in different varieties of wholegrain wheat breads, which will be used to study how they are metabolized in the human body.

Stone’s work contributed to Sang’s ongoing research goal of preventing chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes through the study of grain phytochemicals and their metabolites. Each type of whole grain leaves a unique set of metabolites in the blood that serve as “signatures” that can be correlated to the level of consumption and the effect on human disease.

“My goal is to develop unique exposure markers,” Sang said. “I want to use compounds and their metabolites to reflect wheat intake, and the long-term goal is to study dietary exposure. Eventually, I want to cover all of the major cereals. So far, we are working on wheat and oat.”

“The end goal from talking to Dr. Sang, and the research I’ve done,” Stone added, “is to try and find a quantitative answer to a qualitative association between high-fiber diets and the risk of chronic diseases, such as colon cancer.”

Stone receives a $1,000 travel stipend for his trip to Denver, where he will present his research in hopes of winning a cash prize — $750 for first and $250 for second place. More than the prize, he relishes the opportunity to meet other scientists. Before he leaves for Denver, Stone is analyzing additional samples and finalizing his presentation.

“This is a tremendous experience, and Dr. Sang is an amazing mentor,” Stone said. “I’ve been able to build a base of techniques and lab experiences that I wouldn’t have gotten at school.”

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